Perspectives: Diversity in Advertising, Deidre Bounds

The issue of diversity in our industry is about truly embracing the differences that others bring to the table.


Tell us about who you are and what your job title is?
I’m Deidre Bounds and I currently serve as the first female president of Ignite Social Media. It was a 25 year journey in the marketing field to get to where I am today. My climb up the career ladder included roles such as account manager, PR Director, Media Director, Digital Director; and Managing Partner of an ad agency.

Most of those years I spent in a traditional agency setting, and from that vantage point, I have witnessed the media industry undergo numerous evolutions stemming from the rise of new forms of media: websites, interactive ads, urinal mat advertising, clinz on supermarket floors, ambient advertising and social media marketing, which proved to be more than “just a fad”. In 2007, I left traditional marketing in 2010 to join Ignite Social Media as COO.
What was the greatest obstacle you’ve had to overcome since you began working in advertising?
The greatest challenge I faced as I grew up in an agency was learning to have my voice heard without coming across as defensive, aggressive or as the “angry black woman.” I am an introvert by nature and realized very quickly that if my ideas and insights were going to be heard and respected, it was up to me to empower myself because no one was going to call on me. Oftentimes, being the only woman or person of color in the room I would hear my mother’s voice saying, “Be on your best behavior.” As a woman, I took that to mean be quiet, wait my turn to speak… but when you’re in a room of extroverts, politeness is relative if you can’t get a word in edgewise.

I’ve learned to speak when I have something meaningful to say and to take my time articulating what I want to get across. I no longer allow the chatterboxes in the room to rush or speak over me.
What is your opinion on the current state of diversity within the industry?
Solving the issue of diversity in our industry is not solely about hiring more people of color or more women. The issue of diversity in our industry is about truly embracing the differences that others bring to the table. Our industry is successful when we have varying perspectives at the table to hash out a new campaign. Our industry is successful when people’s backgrounds are used to shine a light on a missing piece of a puzzle we’ve been struggling with to engage a “hard to reach” audience. The simplest fix for this is to hire more minorities, right? Well, unless more people of color are able to really push their views and insights, their opinions won’t be accepted. This pushes more and more women and people of color starting their own shops, which also doesn’t necessarily fix the problem. In actuality, it creates more problems for those running smaller firms because they end up “fighting” over smaller pots of WBE and MBE set asides. They rarely get in positions to make “real” money, unless they engage in a strategic alliance or partnership. When the dollars are small, the result is an inability for these companies to hire, in a meaningful way, others who look like them—which creates yet another ceiling and no impactful movement on the diversity front.
What do you think causes agencies such difficulty in regard to attracting, retaining, and nurturing people of color?
There’s a few things happening here. 1) More and more people of color are becoming entrepreneurs. They have decided to build their careers by creating their own destinies, however this also makes the pool of qualified candidates smaller. 2) traditionally, our industry is one where pay increases are gradual. Bonuses are small for entry and mid-level staff, which doesn’t allow for immediate independence for a recent college grad who may already feel like a burden to their parents. 3) Wage gaps significantly impact retaining people of color and women. Our industry requires long work hours for smaller pay. As a result of this, people often need to find other ways to supplement their salaries and need time to earn money in other ways.
The advertising industry has for years been talking about its many diversity issues, what do you think a long-term solution could look like?
I don’t think there is ONE solution. But the first focus should be pay equality. Pay people what the role calls for, based on prior experience, not based on one person’s ability to out-negotiate someone else for the same role. Next, we need to be welcoming and appreciative of diverse backgrounds, meaning stop trying to make everyone conform to some phantom model of professionalism. Yes, there must be standards and yes, those standards must be enforced, but everyone shouldn’t have to shop at the same cookie cutter mall store or know the latest pop culture to be good at their job. Lastly, we must make an effort to expose people of color to what we do. Start in the middle schools and high schools. Exposure is one of the most important things we can do. Children of color are exposed to teachers, doctors, lawyers, basketball players, nurses…most professions that they come in contact with most often. There’s nothing wrong with these professions, but there is something wrong with those of us in positions to do so, failing to open their minds and eyes to all the other things they can be.
What is going on within your agency to improve diversity?
Diversity is a normal part of how we think about our business. Our agency is led by an African-American woman supported by an all-woman leadership team. Our client’s brands and products reach diverse audiences. We can’t help but think diversely. That said, we have a top down appreciation and acceptance for diversity as a philosophy that permeates throughout our agency. Whether it’s our human resources practices, community involvement, campaign development for clients, mentoring/coaching, diversity is innate in our agency and will continue to be.
How do you plan to inspire the next generation?
I hope to always be a positive example for others. Over the years I have officially and unofficially mentored others, primarily women of color, and think that there’s much more opportunity to do even more of that. My goal is to never come across as knowing all the answers, but to always be willing to share what I know and willing to learn from other’s perspective, knowledge, insights.